I’m at home in my bed on a Thursday morning with nowhere to go and nothing pressing to do. This literally never happens.
I mean, I’ve taken days off from work here or there, but they were usually spent in some alternative activity that required at least as much energy, if not more, than reporting to my actual job.
Like most working American mothers, I rarely indulge in taking a sick day that is actually used on me. Personal days are usually reserved for caring for my 7-year-old son, or on occasion, ignominiously used to get caught up on work.
That’s right, I’ve actually taken my embarrassingly few and feverishly hard-earned PTO days to do — you guessed it — more work, but just from home, and on my own dime.
So that brings us to my current situation, comfortably in bed, stress-free on a Thursday.
It’s simple really, I was diagnosed with COVID. Like many of us, I’ve spent the past 22 months diligently avoiding getting COVID-19 like I was avoiding — well, not to be obvious, but — the plague.
I was one of the first to get vaccinated and sanctimoniously boosted as soon as the opportunity arose. I had my son vaccinated as soon as the CDC announced that it was safe for his age range. I live my life in a double-masked, hand-sanitized, Lysol-wiped continuum.
I’m a middle school principal, and the virus has become a regular part of my daily life as I now devote countless hours to student testing, contact tracing, and notifying families of close contact status. And yet, even under the shadow of the all-powerful omicron, I had managed to remain personally unscathed.
And then it happened: my son came home from school with unusually low energy and a suspicious cough that prompted me to have him tested for the virus. He tested positive, and 72 hours later, I displayed my first symptom.
At first, I was devastated. I had worked so hard to keep us safe, and I had honestly felt a tinge of pride when I was able to share that the tentacles of the pandemic had not yet pierced our familial nucleus.
Of course, I did the responsible thing, immediately texting my boss, notifying my company, and heading out to get a PCR test to confirm my suspicions that I too was now among the infected. I prepared to behave in the expected martyrdom of the working American mom, as I explained that my symptoms were mild, and I would therefore diligently be working and Zooming from home.
But, that is when it happened. And — not to go all Carrie Bradshaw on you — but just like that, everyone became instantly empathetic and seemed to expect nothing from me.
My colleagues told me to get rest and offered to take everything off my plate so I didn’t have to worry. My husband and son rallied their own food sources and brought me anything I wanted with even the slightest suggestion. Even my mother forgot about her grandson and called to, get this, just check in on her daughter.
At first, I was embarrassed and slightly ashamed. The vaccine and booster definitely did their job and my symptoms felt more like spring allergies than the Medieval plague. In fact, had this not been COVID, I would have never taken even one day off to be sick, let alone my company-mandated, specially-coded 10-day quarantine.
But now that it’s Thursday, and I’m in bed without stress, and without guilt, I realize that I have adjusted to this COVID thing pretty quickly. And, I’m just going to say it: I’m glad I got it. Don’t judge me. I’m not that girl, blind to the staggering toll and horrendous suffering that this disease has inflicted upon our species. I’m grateful to be among the camp of vaccinated adults whose COVID infection has caused a minor inconvenience of relatively mild symptoms.
I am, however, that girl who is plagued by our society’s other, less-studied but just as problematic issue of being overworked. And maybe because I’m a woman of color, taught by necessity to continuously scrape by, or maybe because I’m an educator gaslighted into personal exhaustion by the failings of an antiquated and inherently racist system of oppression, or maybe just because I’m me, a 41-year old Capricorn obsessed with an unattainable ideal of perfection, before this moment I never felt comfortable taking time off from work to rest and heal.
And so, it may not be popular, but I am grateful that I got COVID. I am grateful for the ease in getting the quarantine time off. I am grateful for the validity of the vaccine and the booster that made my symptoms so mild. And, perhaps most emphatically, I am grateful to finally be able to take some time to myself unapologetically.
Shelley Anderson is a middle school principal in Washington DC and a former principal in Dallas ISD. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.